Is your marketing organization fully aligned with sales to attract the most strategic accounts? Are they engaging your ideal audience with personalized, relevant content? Are you measuring marketing success so that you can better gauge success? If you answered “not really” to these questions, you’re not alone. That even includes us here at Tech Data, where we have many different vendor and solutions marketing groups that work with other vendor and solutions sales groups.
Account-Based Marketing, or ABM, might solve some of those “no” pitfalls to any of those questions for all of us.
ABM has been a hot topic in the circles of marketing organizations around the globe, especially as we head into 2021. The earliest forms of ABM as we know it began to surface in the 90’s when one-to-one custom-made marketing, mainly in B2C, was tried and tested. B2B experienced some activity in this personalized arena, but for the most part, lagged as far as making it a key marketing strategy.
It wasn’t until 2013 when “Account-based marketing” first appeared on Google Trends, and over the past seven years, it’s not only continued to grow interest but is close to becoming essential for B2B marketing success. The shift to inbound and digital marketing has been the main driver compared to those early 90’s in-store and print tactics.
The number one drawback of starting an ABM program is the daunting startup process, especially for companies that don’t have any semblance of sales and marketing alignment or KPI measurement tools. Throughout this blog, I will identify the core of what ABM is and what B2B organizations need to get started with their very own ABM strategies. A lot of the information I will cover today comes from the foundations, advanced and expert ABM certifications from Demandbase, a leader in ABM methodology. (For more information on ABM certifications from Demandbase, click here.)
So, let’s start with the basics. ABM is a strategy used by B2B marketers to identify and target the accounts they value most. It can be broken into three distinct elements: Sales-marketing-operations alignment, target account lists and personalized tactics.
Element 1: Sales-Marketing-Operations Alignment
This may be the most essential step in the ABM process. The first thing you’ll need to do is gather a leadership team that has full buy-in to making ABM a reality. Generally, this team is made up of a sales leader, a marketing leader and an operations leader, each of who has the visibility and influence within each of their respective teams to make and enforce decisions that are made by the ABM leadership team. Each of these leaders can also bring in resources to help with planning and coordination.
This ABM leadership team will learn to crawl, then walk, then run, as long as there is a philosophical agreement about what the end goal is and how to make it happen. This end goal will revolve around a specific KPI that will be unique to the organization. For many, it’s to get an increase in revenue. For others, it may be website engagement, email subscriptions, improved margins, or some other KPI. For the planning stages, things like vehicles/platforms, technology stack, personnel needed and content to be delivered will need to be assessed and addressed.
During the initial ABM planning sessions, it’s important to note that since this is mostly a marketing-led initiative, the marketing leader may have their work cut out for them, so having a proactive, results-driven approach to selling ABM within the organization, is crucial. One easy way to show this is by looking at the statistical benefits of ABM for the companies that consistently implemented ABM over their traditional marketing efforts. ABM has proven to make both sales and marketing departments to be more efficient by generating more pipeline at a lower cost per opportunity over time. Gather the sales teams’ input on where their pain points lie and determine if targeted marketing tactics through ABM may be able to alleviate some of those pains.
Element 2: Target Account Lists
Once you’ve established that organizational alignment, with dedicated leaders and individuals to execute on the (not-yet-established) plan, we’ll move to the next aspect of ABM basics: target account lists. The target account list that needs to be built will contain the companies that are most likely to buy from you based on qualities that set them up for success. This list is often built by identifying common denominators among your best accounts and finding those lookalike companies that have the potential to also become a top account. Think of your list as “looking back to move forward.” Some things to look at might be the vertical market, the company size, geography, product target or type of business, but really, it’s up to your leadership to determine the top segments to prioritize.
This target account list is meant to be collaborative within the organization and highly dynamic; it should be updated at regular intervals with secured agreement from leadership and sales personnel. There’s also no set number of accounts that need to be on this list, but it’s important to consider where you’re at in the ABM maturity stage, how many sales reps can be allocated to this charge and the marketing department’s capacity to create more personalized content.
The best way to maintain and optimize a successful list will be to have a regular cadence of review and approvals from all areas of the business. Over time, you’ll find that this list will continue to grow, optimize and contribute significantly to your bottom line.
Element 3: Personalized Tactics
There are several approaches to content within an ABM strategy and at its simplest can be broken into four categories: traditional outbound, one-to-many, one-to-few and one-to-one. The more you move toward one-to-one tactics, the more relevant and personalized the messaging becomes. Personalization is a chance to get creative and have some fun with how you tailor your message to your audience. Here’s a look at the types of ABM-based content mix approaches:
- Outbound is considered those traditional marketing activities that your business uses to drive awareness and new business and is relevant for all of your accounts and potential accounts
- 1:many is ABM at scale and can include dozens, if not hundreds of accounts
- 1:few is a segmented ABM approach that is best by positioning 3-5 clusters of 5-25 hand-picked accounts
- 1:1 is strategic ABM that only targets the top 5-50 accounts, depending on your company size and bandwidth
These tactics are designed to attract accounts on your target list to engage with you, whether it’s on your website, at events, or through other digital campaigns. Some examples of tactics that all fall under the ABM umbrella include advertising, email campaigns, social media, virtual events, content syndication, field marketing, direct mail and SEO/SEM. How do you choose where to allocate where your ABM budget will go? That will all depend on several factors that your organization will discover during those regular cadence ABM meetings with leaders and stakeholders.
Most ABM strategies rely on a blended approach that segments the target account list into two or more tiers. Each tier would have a level of personalization or scale. Companies have found that by optimizing their marketing mix for ABM, they’re making more efficient use of their marketing budget, which allows for even more targeted spend moving forward.
In ABM, it’s all about creating a marketing-sales-operations leadership team who all get on the same page about a target account list modeled after successful customers, and then reallocating budget to find customized and personalized ways to connect with those target accounts. Once those elements come together, ABM is off and running.
As you implement ABM into your marketing organization, the first thing you’ll realize is there is no one-size-fits-all equation. There will be experimentation, there will be failures and there will be growing periods. Ensuring that all ABM activity flows through a connected CRM and marketing automation tool will also be key, as it will allow you to better track the success of your ABM program and optimize it moving forward.
Has your organization started down the ABM journey? Leave a comment below and let us know your key takeaways so far.
About the Author
Mike Fitch is a content marketing expert with more than 9 years of experience in B2B marketing, specializing in marketing automation, branding, social media, and content strategy. Mike currently serves as a Senior eMarketing Strategist for Tech Data’s Advanced Solutions Americas business.